Winter slams region
Nasty storm wallops Ohio with snow, freezing rain
DORAL CHENOWETH III | DISPATCHUnion County Sheriff Jamie Patton directs traffic at the scene of an accident on a snowy highway today.
A wintry mix of sleet, freezing rain and snow assaulted central Ohio today, canceling flights and bus service and glazing roads amid now-dropped winter-storm and blizzard warnings.
The National Weather Service said that the mixed bag of precipitation, including sleet and freezing rain, that fell this morning held down snowfall totals. Snowfall varied. From 2 inches to 6 inches had fallen in parts of Franklin County after heavier snow moved through the area around noon.
Blizzard conditions with heavy snow and high winds hit areas west and north of Columbus in a band stretching diagonally across Ohio from just north of Cincinnati to Cleveland, including Union and Marion counties. Up to 8 inches of snow fell in Union County
More than two dozen arrivals and more than two dozen flights scheduled to depart from Port Columbus were canceled due to the weather.
Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott issued a level-two snow emergency shortly before 2 p.m. warning motorists to stay off the roads and avoid non-essential travel. He downgraded the warning to level-one about 4 p.m. after traffic thinned and plow crews made progress.
Some businesses closed early due to the snow, sending their employees home.
After wrecks on the icy roadway, Columbus police closed westbound I-70 near Livingston Avenue about 2:30 p.m. to await the arrival of plows and salt trucks. The road fully reopened about 90 minutes later.
Delaware, Licking, Knox, Marion, Morrow and Union counties also issued level-two snow emergencies. Other counties were under level-one designations that advised caution while traveling.
The National Weather Service dropped blizzard and winter-storm warnings around 3:30 p.m. Only about another inch of snow may fall overnight.
Megabus reported on its web site that it had canceled scheduled service in several Midwestern cities, including Columbus. Greyhound canceled service between Columbus and Cleveland, Indianapolis and Detroit. COTA warned that its schedule of bus arrivals was slowed due to slick road conditions.
Columbus City Hall and Franklin County offices closed early at 2 p.m. The Columbus Metropolitan Library closed all its branches at 3 p.m.
Grove City, Blendon Township and Reynoldsburg declared a snow emergency, requiring parked vehicles to be removed from designated streets to allow plows to do their job.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium closed for the day, including the popular Wildlights event.
Even at the low end of projected snow totals, it still will be the biggest snowfall so far this winter.
“So much for the mild winter,” said Nancy Burton, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Transportation
Steve Cordetti, spokesman for the Columbus Department of Public Services, said about 50 to 55 salt trucks have been treating major arteries since midnight. City plow crews will begin hitting residential streets on Thursday with hopes of completing their work by late Friday.
West of Franklin County, conditions were worse. Officials closed Wright-Patterson Air Force Base after a few inches of snow fell in less than 90 minutes. Snowfall totals exceeding 8 inches were reported in western Ohio.
Wet snow fell fast and heavy in Union County, which was among the counties under a blizzard warning. Sheriff Jamie Patton issued a level-two snow emergency.
Patton himself stopped traffic on Rt. 4 north of Marysville while a wrecker service pulled a wayward semi from a ditch
Patton had seven members of his command staff on duty, helping wherever needed so that road deputies could handle other calls.
Deputies were checking on shut-ins and the elderly and things went well into the evening, with them finding no serious needs. Mostly, he said, it was doing things such as making sure the oxygen-machine dependant had their cell phones charged and at arm’s reach.
Hundreds of flights have been cancelled and many more are delayed across the U.S. Be sure to check your flight schedule if you’re flying today. Port Columbus updates are posted athttp://flycolumbus.com/airline-info/real-time-flight-info.
Post-Christmas travelers are bracing for more flight delays and cancellations, a day after rare winter tornadoes damaged numerous homes in Louisiana and Alabama. The vast storm system stretching across numerous states has been blamed for three deaths and several injuries though no one was killed outright in the tornadoes. The storms also left more than 100,000 without power for a time, darkening Christmas celebrations.
Columbus Police report that they will not respond to non-injury crashes today, and that anyone involved in such minor accidents should exchange insurance information.
Most schools were already closed for the holidays, but some sheltered workshops closed for today. And Fairfield County Meals on Wheels program asked participants to use their blizzard bags today. (See the closings list for updates.)
ODOT reported 122 snowplows were working interstates and state roads in the Columbus area.
“In the rural counties, the challenge will be the blowing snow,” an ODOT spokeswoman said, noting that the areas of concern are Union, Marion, Morrow and areas of Delaware County north of Delaware.
Columbus has the option of bringing in more crews for overtime and hiring outside contractors if they’re needed. The city will plow residential streets only after a snowfall of 4 inches or more, and only after arterial and collector streets are cleared.
Port Columbus also was watching the path of the storm closely, hoping it would bring more snow than freezing rain and ice, said Angie Tabor, airport spokeswoman.
“Snow is a lot easier to deal with,” Tabor said.
As a precaution, Delta Airlines parked its planes in Detroit rather than in Columbus overnight, Tabor said. It’s easier to fly them back than deal with de-icing them.
She said that today’s flight schedule was lighter than normal, so that also helps.
During last year’s mild winter, the total snowfall at Port Columbus was 12.2 inches.
Nationally, the enormous storm system that dumped snow and sleet on the nation’s midsection and unleashed damaging tornadoes around the Deep South has begun punching its way toward the Northeast, slowing holiday travel.
Drenching rainstorms rumbled across Georgia early Wednesday without causing any apparent damages. But Georgia Power officials said thousands lost power in the state as the storm system moved on toward the Carolinas, taking aim at the heavily populated Eastern seaboard.
Mobile was the biggest city hit by numerous by the rare winter twisters. Along with brutal, straight-line winds, the storms knocked down countless trees, blew the roofs off homes and left many Christmas celebrations in the dark. Torrential rains drenched the region and several places saw flash flooding.
More than 325 flights around, into and leaving the U.S. were canceled as of Wednesday morning, according to the flight tracker FlightAware.com. The cancelations were mostly spread around airports that had been or soon would be in the path of the storm.
Holiday travelers in the nation’s much colder midsection battled treacherous driving conditions from freezing rain and blizzard conditions from the same fast-moving storms. In Arkansas, highway department officials said the state was fortunate the snowstorm hit on Christmas Day when many travelers were already at their destinations.
The snowstorm that caused numerous accidents pushed out of Oklahoma late Tuesday, carrying with it blizzard warnings for parts of northeast Arkansas, where 10 inches of snow was forecast. Freezing rain clung to trees and utility lines in Arkansas and winds gusts up to 30 mph whipped them around, causing about 71,000 customers to lose electricity for a time.
Christmas lights also were knocked out with more than 100,000 customers without power for at least a time in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
Some mountainous areas of Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches of snow, which would make travel “very hazardous or impossible” in the northern tier of the state from near whiteout conditions, the weather service said.
Dispatch reporters Kathy Lynn Gray, Lucas Sullivan and Holly Zachariah and The Associated Press contributed to this report.